The Monster Hunter franchise has been a popular franchise for a long time. However, the series normally released on handheld systems like the 3DS and PSP in the past. That, combined with a relatively high barrier of entry, has prevented many gamers from giving the series a fair shake. Developer Capcom hopes to change that, by finally releasing the game on major gaming consoles like the Xbox One and Playstation 4. Besides the visual upgrade from handheld to console, the game has also received many quality of life improvements, along with tutorials aplenty to ease the newcomer. Monster Hunter: World invites fans both new and old to get lost in its fantastical world of intimidating yet surmountable foes. Let’s see if it delivers on that promise.
A Whole New World
The plot line in the Monster Hunter franchise has rarely been the focus, and World is no different. The relatively thin plot starts out with your custom hunter and their handler traveling to the New World. The New World represents a land full of new possibilities, and you and the other members of the Research Commission have headed out to investigate the new lands. As you near arrival, a gigantic monster disrupts your otherwise peaceful journey. As you adjust to your new surroundings in the New World and your duties therein, you and your handler must work together to figure out why the giant monster known as Zorah Magdaros is moving towards the New World.
Beyond this interesting setup, the main story of Monster Hunter: Worlds serves the true focus of the game; the monsters. There’s a handful of good looking cutscenes that get you hyped up for new monster encounters, and provide small plot advancement along the way. However, the narrative rarely goes anywhere interesting or tries to say anything. Instead, characters gently push you from new area to new area, allowing you to hunt new enemies at a good pace. The story serves the gameplay and ensures the player doesn’t get too bored with the scenery. Other than that, it’s a bit throw-away. That being said, I didn’t mind the lack of a riveting plot, as I was having far too much fun hunting monsters to care.
Choose Your Weapon
Right from the beginning, Monster Hunter: World makes one thing apparent. The game is meant to be tuned to your liking, not the other way around. Before you even enter the first proper area of the game, you are given access to a fantastic character creation tool. I tinkered with the options for quite a while, enjoying the variety of cool things I could do to personalize my hunter. After you create your hunter, you also get to customize your feline sidekick. Small cats known as Palicos accompany every hunter in the game, and decking yours out with cool armor and equipment is one of the many highlights of the experience.
The character creation is just the first taste of variety, as the true assortment of goodies comes in the form of weapons. Monster Hunter: World boasts a staggering 14 different weapon types, each one feeling different from the next. Whether you prefer short range or long range, tactical or brute force, Monster Hunter: World has a weapon for you. Beginners to the series can try out each weapon type to their heart’s content in a handy training area, ensuring you won’t be stuck with a weapon you don’t like. If you decide a few missions into the game that you’re not a fan of your choice, Monster Hunter: World allows you to change your weapon at any point in the game.
You’ll want to spend a bit of time picking your tool of destruction, as each weapon truly feels like a different gameplay experience. Using the hammer is vastly different from the long bow, and weapons like the hunting horn and insect glaive require strategy and preparation. Thankfully, those overwhelmed by the number of choices might find their decision easier thanks to difficulty ratings on each weapon, which indicate just how difficult a weapon might be to master. For beginners like myself, Monster Hunter: World recommends weapons like the long sword and dual blades, and after playing through the entire game with the former, I can say I was quite happy with the recommendation.
The Art of the Hunt
Although Capcom has included a bevy of tutorials for new players, Monster Hunter: World‘s mechanics can still be overwhelming and obtuse. At its essence, the combat is challenging but fair. While having high quality weapons and armor is an absolute must, true skill comes in the form of strategy and combat awareness. However, the beginning handful of hours might be off-putting. Monster Hunter: World has a habit of dropping you into the encounters and situations without properly preparing you, rather leaving you to fend for yourself. While some of the game’s mechanics are intuitive, many of the important features of the game can be hard to wrap your head around. Even now, as I write this, I find it hard to wrap the entirety of the Monster Hunter: World loop into words. Well, I’ll try.
The story and quests of Monster Hunter: World takes place across several large and open areas, which are broken up into numbered sectors. Taking on quests sends you to these regions to hunt specific monsters, collect crafting materials, and a number of other objectives. Main story quests are known as “assignments”, and are often focused around tracking and hunting down one specific monster. Additional quests come in the form of collectible orientated “deliveries”, accumulative challenges called “bounties”, and research quests with high rewards called “investigations”. There are literally hundreds of quests to undertake, and besides uncovering the mystery of Zorah Magdaros, it’s all done in the name of loot. For the most part, quests are fun and refreshing, never overstaying their welcome. Unfortunately, the third act of the game is riddled with gameplay padding. Eventually, the main quests stop coming, and you’re forced to revisit previous areas in order to fill up “research bars”. By finding unique tracking marks in the environment, you unlock the final handful of missions, mostly through repetition and playing side quests. It’s an odd way to bottleneck players near the end of the game, and a break in the pace that I did not enjoy at all.
There are two main focuses in Monster Hunter; the monsters, and your tools of hunting. Monsters are awesome to behold, and each new monster you encounter is more impressive than the last. The story missions really emphasize your first fight with a new monster, and there’s a great sense of discovery as you track and find them. Noteworthy fights can last for well over 30 to 40 minutes, with only brief breaks when the monster flees for safety. Each monster has a spectacular sense of scale to them, especially some of the more hefty ones towards the end of the story. Additionally, monsters often interact with each other, sometimes turning into epic battles you would expect to see in a Godzilla film. The entire world feels lived in and organic; ever-shifting and full of life. Small rodents run from a pack of grazing herbivores, all while a colossal beast preys in the trees. There’s a distinct food chain in the New World, and your constant goal is to reach the top, all by besting one intimidating predator at a time.
Monster Hunter: World does an excellent job making you feel more and more powerful as you progress. It does this by upping the ante with every new monster, each one bigger, badder, and wilder than before. While the monsters get bigger, so does your collection of impressive gear sets and weapons. When I started the main story, I felt like a scared but hopeful hunter, eager for his first kill. By the end of it, I felt like an unstoppable force that only a god would be able to stop.
Gear, Gear, and More Gear
Hunting monsters is a blast, but you won’t survive on your starting gear for long. Upgrading your character’s armor and weapon is an absolute must, and although easy enough to understand at a surface level, the complexity can be hard to master. Upgrading your hunter mainly involves crafting and upgrading your equipment. By hunting monsters and scavenging the environment, you gather resources to craft improved versions of your weapons. Weapon versions are displayed as skill trees, and you are almost always allowed to revert to previous weapon versions without wasting precious crafting materials. Armor is broken up into different sets, with most sets representing a specific monster in the game. By hunting that monster and collecting parts from it, you are able to forge new items with increasingly beneficial stats.
Armor pieces have varying skills on them that provide buffs and bonuses, and you can also add these skills to weapons by putting the appropriate “decoration” in an available slot. Armor comes with a basic defense number, and that can be upgraded with “armor spheres”. Found on some monsters and often rewarded for finishing a quest, armor spheres are essentially upgrade points in a physical form. Feeding spheres to pieces of armor will raise their level, and thus their defense number. Crafting also extends into gameplay, as you must craft ammo, potions, traps, and a variety of other useful items. Generally speaking, Monster Hunter: World‘s mechanics can seem intimidating at first, but are easy to learn through some trial and error. This is especially true for the armor upgrading and crafting, as I quickly became comfortable after a bit of tinkering.
Monster Hunter games have usually had an aspect of multiplayer, but Monster Hunter: World makes that a focus. Although you can play the entire game solo and offline, the game encourages you to play online at all times. This is for good reason, because playing with friends is the best part of Monster Hunter: World. I found myself going through the main missions solo most of the time, but often hopped in on friend’s missions and activities whenever I felt like it. Running around with three other friends and engaging in group fights was fantastic, and the mixture of weapons and combat effects make for a great time. Most of my favorite moments from the game happened in a multiplayer setting. Whether it was a specifically crafty monster kill by a friend, or getting some much needed help from a random hunter after firing an SOS flare, the online gameplay experience was consistently fun without fail.
Unfortunately, there are a few glaring oversights and puzzling choices when it comes to how players connect online. First and foremost, you cannot simply play through the main story quests with a group of friends. Before playing any quests with your friends, you’ll all have to make sure to join the same online session. The launch weekend saw a handful of network issues, but I’m confident Capcom will fix these issues before long. Once you and your friends are in a session together, you’ll find the complexity has only just begun. Monster Hunter: World forces the host player to watch all cutscenes in a story mission before allowing others to join them. Additionally, you cannot join a main mission unless you have seen the cutscenes yourself. Playing through story quests with another player is an experience of constant disruption, and it’s honestly not feasible. Instead, the coop offerings embrace the “drop-in and drop-out” style quite literally; you’ll usually just be helping a friend with a difficult monster. Exploring areas and going on side quests together are much easier and less restrictive, but those hoping to see the main story through with a friend… you might want to reconsider.
The Bottom Line on Monster Hunter: World
Monster Hunter: World is conflicting to me. On one hand, it’s a bit hard to get into, despite Capcom’s attempts and making the game newcomer friendly. Numerous multiplayer issues make playing with friends annoying at times, and late game padding left a sour note on the end of the experience. The lackluster story leaves something to be desired, and while aesthetically pleasing, the visuals are occasionally rough around the edges. Lip-syncing is painfully bad, and characters can seem lifeless.
That being said, I spent over 60 hours on the main story, and an additional 20 hours helping out friends and grinding for new gear. I don’t consider myself a fan of this genre, and I’m the last person who would find inherent interest in a crafting-based gear grinding action RPG. Yet, Monster Hunter: World won me over with its unique approach to multiplayer gameplay, awesome monster designs, a massive sense of scale, and a true feeling of progression and power. Even as I cursed under my breath as a result of my 5th consecutive time failing a particularly difficult boss fight, I was having fun. I’ve always wanted to try the Monster Hunter series, and Monster Hunter: World toted itself as the best entry for newcomers. While you might bang your head against some of the mechanics and potentially find some aspects underwhelming or cheap, the feeling of achievement is well worth it. As I finish this review, I have spent about 80 hours on the game, and I know there are hundreds of hours of gear grinding left if I choose to pursue it. Even though I’ve seen the credits, I highly doubt this is the end of the road for me and Monster Hunter: World. If you’re even remotely interested in the series or the idea of hunting huge monsters, now’s your chance to try it. Give Monster Hunter: World a try; I was surprised by how much I ended up liking it.